Spring break is fast approaching, and the quality of our beaches always seems to make a difference in the quality of our spring break crowds.

That is why researchers at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi have been working to figure out ways to ensure that the beaches are there in the future, by conducting an experiment right in front of the university.

The project actually began in 2001. You could call it the university's $1.5 million beach laboratory by the bay. One research scientist said their beach erosion experiment has worked better than they ever imagined.

What is known as University Beach, or Islander Beach, was built back in 2001 and sits right in from of TAMUCC. The Conrad Blucher Institute began an experiment there that looks into the effects of the wind, waves and currents on our bayfront shoreline. However, university officials began to wonder if a beach could be built there that would last.

So the university, along with the city and state, worked to construct a model beach. After all, there was a natural beach all along Ward Island before the bay was developed.

"Our plan was to not have to re-nourish this beach for five to ten years," Coastal Research Scientist Deidre Williams said. "We're in year 11 and we still have no need for re-nourishment of the beach."

Researchers said the design, which features three breakers, could be used by other communities that want a beach.

"This beach has far exceeded the expectations," Williams said. "We have no net loss from this beach of the sand volume. It's just been moved around in the system where we can go back and reclaim it, and it could be placed in areas where it could be better used for recreational purposes."

The beach project has also attracted attention from the wildlife. Least Terns, birds that look like small seagulls, now nest there.

Rachel Fern, a graduate student at TAMUCC, did her thesis on the birds that are now calling the beach home. So far, she has found that the birds like the beach, but seem to thrive when man is not around. The university roped off the nesting part of the beach a couple of years ago and it was a success.

"They did have some moderate success with fledglings that were growing into adults," Fern said. "This year, we didn't do that. We wanted to sort of mimic natural disturbance levels, and we only had one successful fledgling out of a total of 30 nests."

Fern will continue her research in March as the migratory birds are set to return, heading back to a beach that could serve as a model for the rest of the state, and those who want to bring back their own bay side beach.